The latest in adorable obsessions (and experiential marketing)? Cat cafés are spreading like wildfire.
The “paws marketing” concept began in Asia in the ’90s as an antidote to small apartments with no-pet restrictions: Cafés that let customers interact with cats without making the long-term commitment of getting their own. Currently, the model has extended beyond Japan, South Korea and China to Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. The country’s first permanent (vs. pop-up) cat cafés opened in New York City and the San Francisco, CA, area this fall.
At the just-opened Meow Parlour in New York’s Lower East Side, cat lovers can schedule visits (advanced booking is required) in half-hour increments starting at $4. “You can rent time to access to our space, where we have adoptable free roaming cats. You can come for as little as half an hour so you can just pet the cats or stay for up to five hours where you can use our free wi-fi while a cat naps next to you,” the website says.
Co-founded by Christina Ha and Emilie Legrand, the café’s cats are from KittyKind, an all-volunteer, no kill rescue group located in NYC. Human food can be purchased next door at Meow Parlour Patisserie.[more]
Kris can’t wait for our grand opening tomorrow!Friendly reminder:we can only accept people who have made reservations pic.twitter.com/f5b2AvFAvS
— Meow Parlour (@MeowParlour) December 14, 2014
— Meow Parlour (@MeowParlour) December 6, 2014
Earlier this fall in Oakland, CA, Cat Town Cafe successfully traversed red-tape health regulations to open its doors. “The cat café, to us, is fun schtick on top of a serious rescue operation,” said Adam “Catman” Myatt, the café’s co-founder who raised funds in part from a successful Kickstarter campaign.
The market is certainly there, and other cat-centric establishments are in the works for Cleveland, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.
Pet brands such as Purina have been quick to get in on the action. Earlier this year, Purina ONE cat food took the opportunity to sponsor a pop-up “Cat Café” in New York in April, where cat-lovers waited in line to have coffee and hang with 16 adoptable cats.
Niky Roberts of Purina ONE, which organized the four-day “cat-centric” pop-up event with the North Shore Animal League said, “We hope to find [the cats] forever homes, but we also want to start a conversation about cat health,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
“That’s what you do in a café,” Roberts said, according to Fast Company. “You have conversations with like-minded people…At dog parks, you can talk to other dog owners. You can see that world happening around you. But there’s nothing like that for cat lovers and owners.”
Cat cafés have already been huge in Japan, with 79 opening in the past five years alone.
“Most Japanese rental apartments prohibit pets,” explained Norimasa Hanada, owner of Neko no mise (Shop of Cats), Tokyo’s first cat café, VICE reports. “The only ones that allow them are condominium apartments for families. This means that young, single-dwelling workers in their 20s and 30s can’t even think about getting any pets, despite the fact that they’re stressed out and are seeking comfort and companionship of some kind.”
Neko charges $1.50 per 10 minutes, ($9 an hour), and $21.50 for a special three-hour plan.
In China, a cafe in the northeastern city of Harbin has been welcoming stray cats since 2013, as has Cafe des Chats in Paris’ trendy Marais district, where owner Margaux Gandelon said, “the cats were carefully selected for their social skills” and stresses that hygiene and their welfare are her top priorities.
In Australia, Cat Cafe Melbourne opened in June in partnership with Geelong’s Animal Welfare Society (GAWS). “GAWS is all about promoting its animals and encouraging people to adopt pets from shelters,” said GAWS CEO Belinda Russo. “We’re excited to be apart of this. We’re overrun with both kittens and adult cats and really want the community to look to us when considering adopting.”
Cats are the most popular pet in the world (let alone the Internet), largely due to their convenience—something the cat cafés intend to capitalize on as they hope to make a profit and a difference to the animal-welfare community.